Thursday 28 February 2013

Blue Heaven's Fading Fire Shawl

My second crocheted prayer shawl for Lent has reached the finish line. It's rather different from the first one although I have still used a variegated, chunky yarn. This one is in Stylecraft Brushstrokes - a mixture of acrylic, wool and mohair in the colourway "Sea Breeze". I love the Stylecraft Brushstrokes range - it is as if the yarn has been painted in watercolours, as the name suggests. Beautifully soft, it has worked up into a beautifully light and fluffy shawl but it was not terribly easy to work with. The fluffiness of the yarn meant that it was almost impossible to unravel, if any mistake occurred, without jamming tight and snagging, like you would not believe, so my initial foray into a pattern with variation and interest had to be rapidly abandoned - too much scope for error that could not be put right. Slightly rattled by the yarn's unravelability, I played safe and chose the first pattern in The Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion : the "Original Crocheted Prayer Shawl". It is a very simple repeating pattern of single rows of single crochet followed by double rows of double crochet (US terms) using a 7mm hook - so simple even Mrs T with her idiosyncratic, (for which, read "faulty"), counting could not go far wrong! This shawl is a bit wider than my first one - 23" (65 stitches) wide as opposed to 17" but measures the same 60" length, excluding the fringe, so it's quite generous in size.

Initially I felt a bit disappointed that the pattern did not have more interest but in the event the yarn took over and began to sing all by itself as sometimes happens with a project. As the shawl grew, periwinkle horizons began to open up beneath my hook, pale misty vistas and clouded hills, blurred blueness where sea and sky become one, where infinity seems close and where the vastness of creation strikes one with incredulity. There are touches of indigo, like the edges of clouds and some soft chalky green like the tips of distant hills. Despite the reference to the sea in its name, it was the sky that it reminded me of more than anything and in particular this poem by Thomas Merton called "Blue Heaven's Fading Fire".

"Now, in the middle of the limpid evening,
the moon speaks clearly to the hill.
The wheatfields make their simple music,
praise the quiet sky.

And down the road, the way the stars come home,
the cries of children
play on the empty air, a mile or more,
and fall on our deserted hearing,
clear as water.

They say the moon is made of glass,
they say the smiling moon's a bride.
They say they love the orchards and apple trees,
the trees, their innocent sisters, dressed in blossoms,
still wearing, in the blurring dusk,
white dresses from that morning's first communion.

And where blue heaven's fading fire last shines
they name the new come planets
with words that flower
on little voices, light as stems of lilies.

And where blue heaven's fading fire last shines,
reflected in the poplar's ripples,
one little, wakeful bird
sings like a shower."

Thomas Merton, if you haven't come across him, was an extraordinary man. 20th C poet, theologian, Trappist monk, writer, lover of female company in general and, despite his monastic calling, the company of one woman in particular, mystic, perhaps one of the holiest individuals of recent times. Not because he was faultless or saintly, in the sense of being flawless - on the contrary he was deeply flawed in some ways, - but because he somehow distilled his physical, emotional and spiritual humanity to an intensity rather unlike most of what you find in this world.  I love his poetry and his writings and they always lift me to look beyond the mundane and immediate.

It wasn't that Merton was easily holy. It wasn't that he found the way of monastic spirituality he had chosen, easy or even clear always, but he knew who it was he was seeking and he had grasped that silence and stillness and being rooted in the present moment were paths to Him. And for me his greatest gift is the sense that he conveys that if we manage to remain still and silent enough to glimpse "blue heaven's fading fire", somehow, even when we feel lost, we are never alone. And that's a feeling worth cherishing, I think.

Merton communicates the sense that "blue heaven's fading fire" is all around. And I think he's right - it's in the fall of light through a theatre of trees, in wide-winged skies that blur from blue to orange, in the shifting patterns of leaves and water, in the poised presence of a much prayed-in, ancient church, (like the Medieval one where I took my pics above), in the fleeting glance of lovers, in the clutch of a small child's hand on his mother's coat, in the unexpected tenderness of a carer for an aged stranger, in tears that have had to confront the suffering or death of a loved one, in the moment of birth or death, in the sudden joy of just being alive and in unbidden laughter. It is in you and in me and who we are to one another. Throughout his writing Merton is sure of this and longs to share it. "Paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it." as he wrote in his book, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander".

When "the days of trouble come", as Ecclesiastes has it, I find it very difficult not to shorten my focus to what is immediate and pressing but I think it can sometimes help getting through "days of trouble" to hang on to a longer perspective. This shawl is for someone recently diagnosed with cancer, whom I know through my work and who has the long haul of chemotherapy and surgery ahead of her. I hope it may gently and softly remind her of what is beyond the immediate, hard slog of getting through these early days and nights and even if it doesn't say to her all that I have written about here, I hope that it will hold echoes of transparent blue sky mornings and dreamy blue afternoons - past ones, with memories to treasure in the moments when it all seems too much to cope with, and mornings and afternoons to come, in an unclouded future that she and I hope and pray will be hers.

 And I hope that, if nothing else, like Merton's "little wakeful bird", it will softly "sing like a shower" in times of need of that.

I used five 100g balls of the Brushstrokes yarn and had a little left over so what better use to put it to than to make a couple of fluffy pom-poms to decorate the wrapped shawl? Snipping these fluffy pom-poms to shape and snipping the fringe to length was the icing on the cake for Mrs T with her happy snipper tendencies! Had to be so careful not to let them run away with me and reduce pom-poms and fringe to nothing!

Next up, is a prototype shawl of my own design, slightly askew in places so not really up to being given away, but arriving close on its heels, hopefully, with a non-prototype version of the same design that can be given away. Never has Lent been more creative! I am loving it!

Friday 22 February 2013

Song of Solomon Shawl

As indicated in my previous post here, for Lent I'm not giving up anything essential like chocolate, biscuits, tea or, heaven forbid, cake - these, in my book, are survival rations, not optional extras to the daily round, I am afraid, - but I am taking up the idea of making crocheted prayer shawls to give away. It's been interesting. And a bit different from my other projects.

Firstly I had to curb my starry-eyed enthusiasm for the more complex patterns in the Prayer Shawl Companion book and limit my choice to a pattern that I could commit to memory easily. Otherwise there was a risk of Starting, But Not Finishing. So I had to abandon the lovely pale pink Clover Leaf Shawl designed by Robyn Chachula that I had a hankering to make and opt for something simpler. But what? Careful perusal of the book made it clear that nothing about these shawls is meant to be happenstance. The stitches are symbolic; the overall pattern they make is symbolic; the colours are symbolic; the whole project is pregnant with meaning and everything carefully chosen for the message, it is hoped, it will carry to the recipient. As a result, it took me longer than I thought to make a start because the choice at every turn had to be weighed carefully.

In the end, I chose the pattern in the book entitled "Lattice Shawl", contributed by Mary Bell. It's a simple repeating pattern of three open-work rows of "V" stitches worked on top of one another framed by denser rows of (US) double crochet stitches either side. The open form of the "V" stitch lends the pattern the appearance of a trellis or lattice-work fence such as for climbing roses, scented jasmine or clematis with their big, plate-like flowers. I am going to be sending this shawl to a friend awaiting surgery, whom I can't be with in person, so the suggestion of support in the background provided by the trellis pattern seemed appropriate.

So far, so good. Now for the question of the choice of yarn. I'd already decided to explore the potentials of variegated yarns for these shawls on the grounds that they would provide variation of colour without my needing to cart round umpteen different balls of yarn - if I didn't make the production process as portable and user-friendly as possible, I was concerned it might get bogged down. I bought a handful of sample variegated yarns from my LYS and for this shawl I used "Passion" yarn by James Brett in the colour-way P2. It's a variegated chunky acrylic / wool mix. The colour "P2" doesn't sound very attractive does it? But despite its prosaic name, it's beautiful. The colours, ranging from blue and violet to peach and orange mixed with green, pink and some neutral earth-tones, are soft and gentle and it's deliciously light and silky.

The colours remind me of a garden at the beginning or end of the day. There is quite a bit of green - the green of new shoots, bright and alive in early sunlight. There are accents of mauve, pink and tangerine - blossom in the dew or at dusk. There is a streak of deep, vivid blue - the sky just after sunrise or before sunset. There  is some soft grey, charcoal and a touch of taupe - velvet shadows beneath a spreading tree or shrub at twilight - translucent and gentle. These impressions were not all self-evident when I picked the yarn off the shelf - I just liked its soft rainbow palette - and what has been interesting during the making of the shawl is the way that the images developed and with that, related wishes and prayers for the recipient.

I hope it will speak to her of hope and newness, of the reassuring cycle of life that is a constant in a society of so much change and uncertainty, of the basic beauty and goodness of the creation and its Creator, of the subtle complexity and mystery that are woven into the fabric of life and the warmth of relationships that sustain and support. I hope it will speak of the promise that each new day brings and echo the peace that should bid farewell to each one that passes . And even if it doesn't quite say all this, I hope it will be warm and comforting on days that need a bit of warmth and comfort.

The pattern was simple to remember and, hooked up on a 6 mm hook, it took shape nice and quickly. So no risk of failure to finish! On the contrary, it is now ready to be packed up for its journey across the Atlantic.

The book suggests that the making of these shawls should be done in set aside spaces of Quiet Time, preferably lit by a candle or two, but this wasn't entirely realistic for my rag-bag life which is a constant jumble of work, domesticity and often, sleepless nights when I wake up in the small hours worrying about stuff and so I used whatever time was available, even if some of the spaces were odd minutes here and there to supplement longer set-piece hooky times and I hope that it's not lacking in authenticity thereby. And there is, in a way I think, something good about a project that has accompanied the maker in the to-ings and fro-ings of her life - a different kind of authenticity perhaps from the authenticity of only setting aside exclusive periods of prayerful quiet in which to set about construction, but an authenticity nonetheless.

As the garden images grew in my mind while making this, and as I thought about the lattice pattern, I was reminded of the passage in the Song of Solomon where the young girl spies her lover, peering through the lattice window, eager for her to join him in the garden with all the hope and promise that it contains in the newly-burgeoning Spring.

It epitomises so much what the colours and pattern had made me think of. And as the making of this shawl happens to coincide with what is hopefully the ending of the winter and Spring beginning to arrive, I've called this a "Song of Solomon Shawl". And the writer of the Song of Solomon, (whether Solomon himself or not), puts it much better than I ever can:

"See the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance." Song of Solomon 2:11-13

Hopefully the winter is almost now past and the rains of which there have been so many are indeed over and even if not, I hope that metaphorically my shawl will be a harbinger of Spring in all sorts of ways for my friend across the ocean.

While the Song of Solomon is, on one level, just a love poem, it also expresses very powerfully and profoundly the divine joy in creation and human relationship and the Christian mystic tradition has not been afraid to embrace God as divine lover as opposed to unbending judge. Read 16th C St John of the Cross's poem, "The Dark Night of the Soul" or Medieval Hildegard of Bingen's poetry if you want to see what I mean.

Makes us 21st C types, full of rational sophistication, seem a bit desiccated by comparison sometimes.

I am now on my second shawl for someone I know through work. Different yarn, different pattern but equally revelatory creative experience. Watch this space!

When the idea of making prayer shawls for Lent first took shape in my mind, I worried that appropriate recipients would not be that easy to identify but I needn't have worried, it's been very clear and the only problem will be keeping the production pace up. Thank God for sleepless nights! They may not always be a joy but they have their uses!

Anyone else tempted to have a go at making a shawl to give away? If you are and you'd like to post about it, let me know and I'll put a link to you in my next Lent prayer shawl update.

Friday 15 February 2013

In My KItchen In February

Joining in with Celia's In My Kitchen series here, in my kitchen, in February, have been the following:

... Leek and Herb soup

In February I seem to hanker for food that is plainer and packed with vitamins after the more sumptuous offerings of the post-Christmas period that extends into January. Things like this vivid green soup, which is my own recipe. It's very simple and although it uses plain water, not stock, it doesn't taste at all thin. I use 4 largish leeks, washed, trimmed and chopped, and about 12 oz / 300g of potato, peeled and diced, which I sweat in a spoonful of olive oil for a few minutes. Add 3 tsps salt (sounds a lot but you are not using stock so it needs more than you might think), plenty of black pepper and about 1.5 litres / 2.5 pints of water. I cook this little lot for 6 minutes in the pressure cooker and when it's done, I open up the lid and immediately stir in a bag of washed wild rocket and a great big bunch of flat leaf parsley, (about a 75-100g / 3-4 oz bunch roughly chopped, leaves only). Wilt the greens in the hot soup for a minute or so and then whizz the soup in the blender. Made like this, it keeps its vivid colour and all the associated vitamins beautifully. And if you think that amount of parsley is too much, let me tell you, it isn't! The strong, verdant flavour that raw parsley has, gets softened to something much more subtle in the wilting process and the soup tastes delicate, fragrant and unexpectedly savoury for something that you might think would have needed bolstering with a good chicken stock.

... Carrot and Almond Muffins

Strictly speaking, I think these do not qualify as muffins because the method and ingredients are not those of classic muffins so they probably ought to be called Carrot and Almond Buns. Buns or muffins, these too are part of my plainer, vitamin-packed, February fare. And again this is my own recipe. Very simple and easy.

Peel and coarsely grate 200g / 7 oz carrots and set aside in a large bowl.

Chuck the following in the food processor and whizz to a nice smooth consistency:

200 ml / 7 fl oz almond oil (you could substitute another vegetable oil, if you prefer, but I like almond oil for the vitamin E it gives)
175 g / 6 oz light soft brown muscovado sugar
4 large eggs
1 ripe banana, peeled

Now add:

350g / 12 oz white self-raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
100 g / 4oz ground almonds

Whizz again to a produce a nice smooth batter. Tip into the large bowl where the grated carrots are waiting and fold them into the mixture. Spoon into about 15 muffin cases (see, I told you they were muffins!) and bake for 20 -25 minutes at 170 - 180 C until well-risen and golden. They freeze beautifully.

... oranges wrapped in tissue paper

I know, it's my food packaging thing again! I love these oranges, individually wrapped in tissue paper from Spain. I cut the outer peel off with a sharp serrated knife and then cut each segment free of the pithy membranes on either side to make a simple orange fruit salad. Delicious. Although they are a fiddle to prepare like this they are just so much nicer to eat when freed from all that white pith.

... shortbread

This again is plain, but good. I find substituting some ground rice for some of the flour gives the best and crunchiest texture in shortbread. Semolina also works well if you can't get hold of ground rice but I find ground rice is best. I substitute about 2 oz / 50 g ground rice out of a total weight of 12 oz / 300g flour. I also cook the shortbread slightly beyond what a purist would probably say I should, that is to say, I prefer I prefer it to go one stage beyond the pale gold of commercial shortbread until it is a slightly darker brown. It improves both the flavour and the crispness. Be warned, this may seem plain but it disappears like greased lightning, in my kitchen anyway!

... one of H's targets from his .22 rifle shooting sessions at school

Sadly the days are gone when H used to come home with bright, jolly paintings and wobbly cardboard models to stick up on the wall or perch on the top of the fridge but instead, the kitchen walls now sport a lot of these .22 rifle targets. This one comes from an inter-school competition at the beginning of the month and shows his best shot to date. Two shots to be precise. Two consecutive shots straight through the centre of the bullseye. He ascribed this success to luck and when I said it couldn't just be luck I got a long and complicated explanation about the trajectory of a rifle bullet and the infinitesimal environmental variations that occur that mean luck as much as judgement were at play. As I don't shoot, myself, I can't comment on this but it seems an impressive result nonetheless and whether fluke or skill, it has now joined a number of its fellows behind the geraniums on the kitchen window sill!

... my new crocheted red dishcloth complete with heart pattern

Lots of people have been making dishcloths recently - have a look at Astri's fabulous ones here and with St Valentine's Day this month I got it into my head that I fancied a red one with a heart motif. I was sure I had a pattern for a small bag with a heart motif which I thought could be adapted to make a dishcloth but I couldn't find it anywhere. I think I must have lent the book to someone and failed to retrieve it. Nothing daunted, I had a little hunt on the Internet and found just what I was looking for. Here it is:

The pattern is by Donna Mason-Svara and you can find the pattern on her blog, Smoothfox here. She has lots of lovely innovative crochet patterns listed on the right hand side and you'll find the one I used under the heading "Heart Square". (check out her beautiful round and star-shaped afghans while you're there - they are amazing!) The "Heart Square" is  exactly what I had in mind for my purpose and is nice and holey which makes it hygienically easy to rinse and dry. I made it in red Puppets 8/8 cotton, like my face flannels last year, as this yarn can be washed on a hot cycle.

I say "can be washed on a hot cycle" but it hasn't been yet because I haven't yet had the heart (sorry!) actually to use it. It looks so nice that seizing it to wipe the breakfast table seems a bit boorish but I tell myself, I made it to use it and must stop being precious about it! Someone will knock over a mug of tea or hot chocolate soon and I will grab it as the nearest thing to hand with which to mop up the mess, which will break the ice, but so far, I am quietly admiring it in its pristine state!

... heart-shaped, home-made custard creams for St Valentine's Day, with tea in one of my new spotty mugs which I don't need, but couldn't resist when I saw them in a sale.

Have a look at Celia's blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for sightings of other February kitchens!

Sunday 10 February 2013

Crochet And Pom-Pom Hearts

Couldn't pass up the opportunity to hook up a few of these cushiony hearts after seeing Lucy's post here last month. The pattern is the same lovely one by BeaG that Lucy used which you can find here. I've used my favourite Cascade Ultra Pima cotton yarn in a range of Spring-inspired colours and a 4mm hook and I love them!

I thought they would make nice lavender bags, both to keep and to give away as small presents, but of course the crochet is a bit porous and the lavender flowers have an unhelpful tendency to make their way out through the crochet again instead of staying fragrantly put. Not being keen on finding bits of scratchy lavender in my clothes and suspecting that anyone to whom I might give one of these, might not either, I made little pillows out of loose weave muslin to fit inside. The muslin was in fact an unused jelly-straining bag that I cut up, and stitched by hand into small pillow shapes, filling them up with lavender before the final seam - perfect, loose-meshed fabric for allowing juice to drip through for jellies or to keep lavender from making its way out of my crocheted hearts!

The little lavender pillows sit nicely within the crocheted hearts and I just filled out the remaining space with soft toy filling. This was also an economical way to use my precious Proven├žal lavender, as you don't need so much just to fill the little pillows as you would to stuff the entire heart and they are still beautifully scented.

I played around with various flower patterns to embellish the hearts and in the end plumped for the Centifolia Rose in Lesley Stanfield's 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet, making some in two colours and some in single ones.

This coming week, with Valentine's Day in it, is my excuse to go fuzzy, pink and girly.

In a predominantly male household, "fuzzy, pink and girly" is not often welcome, but every once in a while I feel the urge to give in to it, regardless of disapproval ... so I've also had a go at making some pink heart-shaped pom-poms with ... a pile of pink yarn

... and a pair of those heart-shaped pom-pom-making gizmos.

The heart-shaped pom-pom-making gizmo is slightly daunting compared to the simple spherical and oval pom-pom-making gizmos I had as a child (and still use). But with a bit of perseverance I managed, more or less, to get it to work. If you acquire one of these to have a go yourself, (you can get them from Purplelinda Crafts here), do read and follow the accompanying detailed instructions carefully and take my advice: not a single word in them is superfluous!

There is quite a bit of happy snipping involved in order to shape the results properly which was rather enjoyable and created a lot of pink fluffy mess everywhere.

I've always loved wielding scissors and snipping away, whether it's paper, fabric, yarn or hair on the receiving end of my attentions!

As a small child I was so taken with the glamour of using scissors that Really Cut instead of those dreadful plastic "safety" scissors that wouldn't cut anything and with which I was generally fobbed off, that I tried to "help" my mother's dressmaking efforts by copying what I'd seen her do when cutting out a summer dress for me. It was rather unfortunate that the fabric I cut was the pieces she had already cut out for the dress! As you can imagine, I was not very popular! Not that I blame her. I would have been pretty livid in her shoes, I can tell you!

Nor was my popularity rating high when I led my sister astray into cutting the hair on a pair of dolls we had. My doll ended up with quite a pretty, gamin kind of bob, but L didn't know when to stop nor, aged only three at the time, did she realise that the doll's hair would not grow back after cutting, so it ended up with a very comical, and irrevocably drastic, crew-cut! I am afraid, at all of six years old, I unkindly laughed the superior laugh of the knowing older sibling but my poor sister was rather upset and my mother was not at all pleased!

As you can see, I need outlets for my happy snipping tendencies and these pom-poms fit the bill nicely - I particularly love the ones made with the variegated pink yarn - Patons Fairytale Dreamtime Baby DK, if you're interested - and there were no tears or fall-out apart from the pile of drifting pink fluff all over the floor!
Pink dust bunnies anyone?!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Inspiring Hooky Books

I have recently acquired two inspirational hooky books. One is this:

It was just too beautiful not to buy it, I am afraid. Obviously the patterns in it are designed for using Noro yarn - the incredibly beautiful (but also incredibly expensive) Japanese variegated yarn of the gods. But there is nothing to stop you making substitutions and there are a lot of beautiful and much cheaper variegated yarns out there to experiment with. 

I am drawn like a moth to a flame by the allure of variegated yarn - I find it magical and provocative. It is also rather unpredictable and what you hold in your hand in the skein may, or may not, give an impression of what will happen when you work it up.  You never quite know how the colour will "pool", whether beautiful, variegated stripes will appear, as if by magic, or whether you will get a bit of a mish-mash of random colours. I find that unpredictability and "hiddenness" exciting and although I've had one or two unsuccessful attempts using variegated yarn that have definitely resulted in the mish-mash, random category, when it works, it really is beautiful.

Because my hooky moth wings have been singed so to speak, by my less successful experiments on occasion, I began cautiously, in response to this book, by buying just two skeins of Noro Silk Garden Lite yarn to make the Bobbled Mitts designed by Karen Garlinghouse. You could probably get away with just one skein, in terms of the amount of yarn used, but of course if you want your mitts to match you've got to start the colour gradations at the same point, which means buying two. As it was, I only originally bought one and had to buy another from a different source, which (of course) wasn't from the same batch so the colour run wasn't identical. This means my mitts are almost, but not quite, a pair. The discrepancy is only in the cuff and I quite like that, actually.

The pattern was very clear and I liked the idea of stretching my skill set a bit and making the ribbed cuffs for the base and the bobbled, textured fabric for the body of the mitts. Because the Noro Silk Garden Lite does not unravel easily, once crocheted, without snagging and breaking, I made a dummy cuff first in some ordinary acrylic yarn to get the hang of the Front Post Double Crochet and was pleased I did, as it ironed out a few glitches which would have been difficult to undo in the more temperamental Noro. My experiences of trying to knit ribbing as a child had put me right off any pattern requiring ribbing - I found / find the K1, P1 thing tedious and tricksy. Hooky ribbing however, I found a breeze and I love the almost knitted effect the cuffs have. 

The bobbles were very easy indeed - no special stitch required, just taller stitches interspersed among shorter ones which have the effect of concertinaing and buckling outwards as subsequent rows are added giving the textured, bobble effect. 

Leaving on one side the happy texture they have, it's the colours that make these wrist warmer mitts instantly among my favourite garments. 

 No mish-mash effect here. Just beautiful, vibrant shades blending and contrasting with one another in perfect harmony. 

Other tempting patterns in the book include this very beautiful Chrysanthemum Shawl designed by Anna Al ...

... the Flower Blossom Purse designed by Yoko Hatta

... these gorgeous, scalloped variegated Nesting Bowls designed by Jacqueline van Dillen

... and this Felted Tote bag designed by Marty Miller

Of course, all these will use a lot of yarn so unless I substitute something cheaper for the Noro yarn, a lot of saving must be done before I can start on any of them, but give me time!

The other book I have acquired is this one:

I saw this at the Knitting and Stitching Show back in the autumn last year but didn't buy it. But you know how it is, an idea is sown and germinates and begins to take root and before you know it, you are wishing you had not passed up the opportunity to acquire the book which tells you how to grow the  ideas that are now spindly seedlings, requiring potting out! Fortunately the book is obtainable on Amazon here

I've been toying with the idea of making a crocheted shawl for a while. A good bit smaller than a blanket but with many of the feel-good factors that blankets have. The book is an eye-opener. Partly because it is filled with a wonderful and varied range of shawl patterns for all skill levels but more significantly because of the movement, originating in the US, behind the book. These shawls are not just any old shawls, they are "prayer shawls" that come from individuals and groups, making shawls to give away with the specific intention to communicate blessing and comfort to the recipients. The making of them is intended to be, and clearly is, a spiritual experience in which the maker's prayers are woven along with the yarn into the finished article. Understandably this has a profound effect on both maker and recipient even if the recipient is not specifically known to the maker. Did you know that there are whole "prayer shawl ministries" out there? I didn't. 

Well, Lent is coming up. Instead of the whole giving up chocolate / alcohol etc saga which seems to me is often more about losing weight and accruing a few health benefits than anything else, I'm going to make a few of these and give them away. 

Like the wrist warmers, the patterns will stretch my hooky capabilities a bit and introduce me to new stitches (V stitch, flower stitch, crown stitch, crossed stitch, etc) and even beading, as in this lovely bobbled shawl by Jan Bass that was made for someone partially sighted and therefore includes lots of texture in the shawl fabric and different-shaped beads and charms at the edges to major on feel-appeal rather than just visual effect.

Some are more complicated than others but there's plenty to choose from, for every skill level. They are mostly worked up on quite a big hook and chunkier yarn than I normally use which means they should work up fairly quickly. Bring on Lent, I can't wait to start! 

I love this variegated pink clover leaf version edged in green designed by talented crochet designer, Robyn Chachula

... and this one in deep, variegated blues with pockets by Sheila MacNeil

... as well as this lighter, lacier version, hooked in double strands of fine, lace-weight, gossamer mohair by designer, Donna Hulka.

The book also contains a fascinating commentary about the significance of different types of stitch, pattern and colour so that at every level a shawl "speaks" with symbolic significance a bit like the Victorian language of flowers where a purple pansy, for example, was not just a pansy, but a conveyor of the message "You fill my thoughts". Not to be confused with a mixed purple-and-yellow pansy, which meant "Don't forget me."!

The Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion is obviously written from the perspective which gave rise to it. You may not find that perspective very familiar or even congenial, especially here in the UK, but don't let that put you off either the patterns or the beautiful idea of making something like this to send someone a tangible hug who needs it and perhaps experiencing something profoundly spiritual yourself, in the process. Although in origin the "prayer shawl ministry" idea is Christian, I defy any compassionate human being not to find something here that resonates, whether you share a Christian faith perspective, another faith perspective, or none.

Now where is my chunky hook and some nice, soft chunky yarn?! I think I might just start Lent early this year.

Anyone else recently come across any inspiring hooky books they'd recommend? A girl can never have too many of them (like bags and shoes!)

Ed to add: there's a lovely new hooky book about to come out, written by the super-talented Sue Pinner of "the 8th gem" fame. The book is called "Granny Squares - 20 Crochet Projects With A Vintage Vibe". It's not published until May but you can pre-order a copy from Amazon here. If the book is anywhere as inspirational as Sue's blog we are in for a treat!